By Ray Hamill — After a regular season that went down to the wire with little separating the top teams in the Big 5, it was only appropriate that we would see more of the same in the league tournament championship.
On Friday night, the Eureka Loggers pulled out a dramatic and thrilling 6-4 win over McKinleyville at the Arcata Ball Park to win their fourth straight Charles Lakin Tournament championship, one week after losing the Big 5 title to the Panthers.
And it took nine innings to separate the two teams, who were playing for the fourth time in 10 days, with the Panthers twice battling back from a two-run deficit to force the extra innings.
“It was an exciting game,” Eureka head coach Eric Giacone said. “That’s how games at this time of the year should be.”
Both teams had their chances to win.
The Panthers rallied to tie the game with two runs in the bottom of the fifth, but left the bases loaded.
Eureka’s David Vagle led off the top of the seventh with a double to left field, and was then advanced to third on a well-executed Isaac Gutierrez bunt. But the Loggers were unable to get him home, with Mack shortstop Cameron Saso making a good defensive play to end the inning.
The Loggers, however, did enough in the top of the ninth to secure the win, albeit with the help of some defensive miscues by the Panthers.
Drew Nylander was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, before being driven home all the way from first on a monster Vagle double into left field.
Vagle scored on the same play after a wild throw to second base sailed into the outfield.
“We got great pitching performances by both Brady (Munson) and Hayden (Bode), and they did what we’ve been doing all year,” Giacone said. “Our defense played great once again, and we finally got some big hits.”
Eureka freshman Jackson Giacone continued to impress at the plate and showed no occasion is too big for him, finishing 3-for-5 with a double, while Keenan Morris and Isley Tulmau each had two hits, including a double by Morris.
The win gives the Loggers plenty of momentum heading into a tough NCS Division-III playoff bracket.
“That’s probably the biggest part of this game, just the way it worked out,” the head coach said. “To be resilient and battle back, that type of momentum going into the playoffs is invaluable.”
The Loggers will find out their playoff seeding on Saturday and are expecting anything from a two or three seed to a five or six.
And they appear to be peaking at just the right time.
“I think we are,” Giacone said. “The pitching’s been there. We throw a ton of strikes, which makes it easier for our defense, and if we have the bats going, we’re going to be a scary team.”
The Panthers, meanwhile, suffered just their third loss all season, but after clinching their first Big 5 title outright in 23 years this spring, they are expecting a No. 1 seed in the Division-IV NCS bracket.
As they have all season, they proved to be a tough out on Friday, twice rallying with a pair of runs in each of the fourth and fifth innings.
Saso led the way at the plate, finishing 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Isaac Puzz had a double.
Bode got the win and looked very sharp in relief of Munson, allowing just three hits in five strong innings.
The Eureka sophomore has been impressive out of the bullpen all season.
Another sophomore, Corbin Eichin, got the start for Mack, allowing five hits in five innings, before giving way to Lance Lally.
With the win, Eureka improved to 16-6, while McKinleyville dropped to 20-3.